Making change, or, critical to quality

I’ve been thinking about the less-than-obvious struggle we (meaning “I”) have with behavior and accomplishment.  Behavior is what you do; accomplishment is what gets done.  In the workplace, people go on a lot about accomplishment. They want results: closed sales, increased share, service delivered at lower cost, and so on.  But people also tend to praise and reinforce behavior, even when its connection to accomplishment is tenuous.

Making change is a key accomplishmentLet’s get something to eat

Think about what you see as critical to quality for your workday lunchtime experience.  For me, at least in part, that involves:

  • Acceptable food (Bombay Bistro is great; I don’t demand two Michelin stars)
  • A space that’s clean (I don’t want to clean a table)
  • Room to eat without bumping other people
  • A wait time that’s less than 10% of total time

I think many managers of cafeterias, coffee shops, and similar faster-food places would sign up for those as performance standards for their business.  That’s one reason they often have the touch-screen cash registers: the cashier can punch in items, and the machine does the pricing.  The idea is to produce a worthwhile accomplishment: fast, accurate billing.

In her new book, Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen talks about fast-food drink dispensers.  Sometimes, she says, you get a really skillful food worker:

She can start a drink pouring a the soda machine, turn to ring a customer, and know exactly how long she has before she needs to turn around and keep the cup from overfilling.  That’s the sign of an expert who really knows their job, and has internalized that knowledge over time.

That kind of skill is expensive to acquire, which explains the drink dispensers with size buttons. A worker can press “large” and move on to another part of the order.  The dispenser isn’t (usually) going to overfill the cup, and so it helps him produce a high-quality result–a fast, accurate meal–with less deliberate investment in skill development.

We presume accomplishment; we notice behavior

We tend to disparage that button-pushing, though. We like interacting with high-skill behavior.  It’s enjoyable and maybe reassuring to have our order handled by someone who’s clearly expert in her work.   Even if we get our order just as quickly from the press-the-size worker, we almost feel as if he’s cheating.  It’s the on-the-job equivalent of “he had to look it up.”

Change can be toughIf you disagree, how do you feel about cashiers who have trouble making change on their own?  Admit it–it drives you nuts, because people ought to be able to make change.  And how hard can it be?

I tend to agree.  Making change seems like a straightforward application of match.  But I worked for years in a job where I had to make change, often. And I’ve had to teach people to make change accurately, for the sake of the customer and the sake of the business. If someone isn’t fluent at making change, it takes time to develop that fluency.

You know the project-management nostrum: things can be fast, good, and cheap.  Pick the two you want.

In the context of a fast(er) food business, it makes sense to have a cash register that does the change-computing task.  Otherwise, you have to hire people with more skill, or else devote time and energy to helping them acquire that skill.  (At the end of this post, I’ve written up one method for counting change.)

Change and accomplishment

You’d think that any fast-food place would want employees who can count change.  And maybe that’s true–the place wants them, but can’t always find them.  So it needs to hone in more on what the real accomplishment is: is it accurate change that’s handed to the customer quickly?  Do you need to crank in the behavior involved ( “employee calculates” versus “employee uses a tool” )?

Figuring out what results matter, so you can work on delivering them, is ultimately what work is about.  It’s easy to latch onto behavior, because it’s usually observable and seems obvious.  As Robert Mager says, people really oughta wanna do this.  I think accomplishment is a better guide, though it does require you to question assumptions and perhaps discard predispositions.

Change–it isn’t easy.  Take it from a guy who once said to a customer, “I’m sorry, I don’t have change for a ten, but I do have change for a twelve.”


Bonus Feature: the Count Up Twice method for making change

This example uses a small cash purchase, such as a fast-food meal, for which the customer is paying in cash, with one or more bills totaling more than the price of the meal.

  1. State the amount of the sale.  (“That comes to $7.32.”)
  2. Accept the customer’s payment.
  3. Check the payment and state the amount.   (“Out of twenty dollars.”)
  4. Set the payment down without putting it into the individual register spaces. (E.g., on the register above the cash drawer. Even better if the customer can see the payment.)
  5. Count up to yourself from the amount of the sale as you remove money from the register. Work up from small to large coins or bills.
    • Pennies: That’s $7.32… 33… 34… 35…
    • Nickels: 7.40… 45… 50…
    • Quarters: 7.75… 8…
    • Dollars: 9… 10…
    • Tens: $20.00.
  6. Count the change again for the customer, starting with the amount of the sale. Give the customer each coin and bill as you work toward the amount tendered.  Say the amounts out loud.
    • That’s $7.32… 33… 34… 35…
    • 7.40… 45… 50...
    • 7.75… 8 …
    • 9… 10…
    • $20.00.
  7. Thank the customer.
  8. As the customer leaves, put the payment into the proper cash register spaces.

This isn’t all; it’s just the most common case. What else is there?

  • The rule of thumb that you should move to the largest coin or bill you can, as soon as you can. For example, if you can jump from pennies right to quarters, or from ones to twenties, do it.
  • What to do if the customer offers bills and coins as payment ($10.50 for that $7.32 meal).  

And I haven’t integrated this with related topics like how to use the register, dealing with underpayment, or coping with attempts to trip up the cashier in mid-count.


CC-licensed images:
Cash register keys by zizzybaloobah.
Generic text by Yongho Kim.